By Jessica Mokhiber Palmer
When we first began our tiny house journey in 2016, we began with research – exhaustively scouring YouTube, checking out books on tiny living and downsizing from our local library, and then, as a lot of people do for inspiration, turned to Instagram.
I remember thinking, “Whoa. We should have checked Instagram sooner.” There are so many photos, so much to consider. In putting our own designs together, we pulled from some of what we had seen and liked – for instance, Tiny House Basics’ accordion entertaining window was a source of inspiration for us and while our big window isn’t the same as theirs, that is where the original idea came from (we also purchased our trailer from them!) Somewhere we had seen skylights and knew immediately we wanted three in ours for lots of natural light. We saw how folks configured their bathrooms, their tiny kitchens, and we also saw things we knew we didn’t want – for instance, a bench in lieu of a couch. We knew we wanted comfort. Tiny Miss Dolly on Wheels showed us how much some greenery can add to your home. SHED Tiny House showed us how a small home can mean more life – the exact reason we were embarking on this lifestyle change.
It was wild. We could peek into the homes of people doing the very thing we were aiming to do for a little glimpse into their real lives, or at least the parts of their lives they were gracious enough to share.
But over the years, Instagram has changed, or at least it feels like it has. Just now, I search “tiny house” accounts, and you’ll find a long list of accounts entirely curated of other people’s content – for instance, “tinyhousemovement”, “tinyhousetrends”, “tinyhouselivings” “tiny.house.society”, etc, and the list goes on and on. These accounts collect and re-post gorgeous photos, but they’re, by and large, not pages being maintained by real tiny home dwellers. If you search #tinyhouse, it’s the same thing – photos you’ve seen dozens of times, often re-purposed by accounts just growing their followings and often not crediting the original homeowner at all. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the same photo of one of Jacob Witzling’s gorgeous cabins with no photo credit to be found. This goes for almost all of the tiny house accounts with large followings.
Instagram can do its part to reduce inauthentic activity – and they say they are, but it feels like it isn’t happening fast enough. And each day it feels like a new account is created just to curate photos of other people’s homes.
And – I know some people won’t like me for saying this — I am over the non-lived in homes, too. Give me the real, live tiny home dwellers over those accounts any day.
Now to be fair, some of these big accounts are helpful if you’re looking simply for inspiration and beautiful photos. But if you want to know what real tiny home builders and dwellers’ lives are like, you might have to dig a bit (perhaps search #tinyhousebuild or #tinyhousebuilder).
At its heart, the tiny house movement goes against the grain. We’ve shunned societal norms and the outdated idea of the American Dream in search of something different; we’ve paved our own paths. So why should everything about the tiny house movement on Instagram look the same?
Also, it almost goes without saying – this is a visual platform. Pictures are its heart. I enjoy taking photos. I take a ton of pride in the home we built and designed and so I do aspire to take nice pictures of it. Guilty! But I am longing for authenticity on this platform, and I don’t think I am alone.
All of these curated accounts that don’t really say very much aside from asking you to tag or follow them make it difficult to weed through and find the real people in this movement, as well as any real diversity. I feel like I see the same photos over and over and it’s a real Eureka moment if I ever come across a legit tiny house page owned and maintained by real human beings.
And I know we all enjoy a beautiful photo here and there, but after the umpteenth time of seeing a perfectly staged photo of a home no one is actually living in, what really is the point?
Showing us taking out our bamboo flooring and replacing it with tile before our home is even completed might not be the most beautiful visual – but wouldn’t our advice on water and plumbing and how NOT to flood your home perhaps be more useful than a carefully chosen photo of a home not even lived in? Nicolette of @Nicolettenotes recently shared her experience moving her tiny home from one spot to another – certainly a real, authentic perspective on how harrowing that can be! @Tiffany the Tiny Home shares reviews of some of their favorite products and blogs about real tiny living. Surely this kind of page is more real and more helpful than a lot of these inauthentic accounts that keep popping up.
I, for one, want to see the grit and determination that is a trademark of this lifestyle. I want to see the houses being built from the trailer up, the ingenuity, the different directions people take their designs. I want to see how other people make their bed in a loft – a full body workout. Or how people find the space to hang their laundry to dry. I want to see the photos with captions saying, “This might not be pretty, but today we took the blue tarp off our roof and sealed up our home!” — because I’ve been there, and when I was, there were real live humans I didn’t know in real life cheering me and Todd on via our Instagram page, and now I can tell the next builder, “Yes, this project is taking you three times longer than you thought it would. I’ve been there. You’re so close! Keep going!” – because that kind of support was invaluable to us and we hope we can pay it forward for someone else. No one managing “tiny.house.society” or whatever new account is added today is ever going to engage with us on that level.
I also believe we can show off good photos of our homes but share the truths of our lives in our captions – and captions are something that immediately let you know if a feed is authentic or curated. The platform is visual, but storytelling through your own words and experiences is incredibly important also.
All of this is to say: We’re here! There are real people living in some of these homes and we’re sharing our journeys. We are out here but our voices are being drowned out by collections of photos from accounts with no real concern about the integrity or authenticity of the tiny house movement. Following a collection of homes is not in and of itself a bad thing but it certainly doesn’t give a true picture of what this life is like.
Like real life in any type of house, life in a tiny house is not always spotlessly clean or perfectly tidy – it’s real. It’s good, and it’s bad, it can be gritty, it can be hard, it can be amazing, and it’s everything in between.
Don’t let some of these inauthentic accounts tell you otherwise.
And where do you fall in the great Instagram debate? Real life vs. curated feeds, or somewhere in between? Happy to hear what others think of this as well.
Thanks for reading,
Want to follow some real life tiny house dwellers and builders? Check out the following 46 authentic Tiny House Accounts!
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